MORRO BAY — On Monday, July 10, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn H. Duffy sentenced Stephen Arthur Deflaun to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting deaths of Stephen Donahue Wells and Jerry Rios Jr., as well as the assault on California State Park Ranger Charles Jackson. The crimes occurred in July 2001 at the Morro Bay State Park Campground.
Following a three-week trial, a jury found Deflaun guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm and one count of assault on a peace officer with a firearm. On April 28, 2023, Judge Duffy determined that Deflaun was legally sane when he committed the crimes.
The incident took place when the Wells family, traveling in a recreational vehicle, encountered Deflaun at the campground. An altercation ensued after the children approached Deflaun about his intention to stay the night. Stephen Wells intervened, leading to an argument.
The Wells family left to report the incident to a park ranger, but Deflaun followed and fatally shot Stephen Wells and Jerry Rios Jr. Moments later, Deflaun aimed his gun at Ranger Jackson, resulting in a confrontation that ended with the ranger subduing Deflaun.
The case experienced significant delays, with Deflaun initially declared incompetent to stand trial shortly after his 2001 arrest. In December 2021, it was determined that Deflaun had been restored to competence, and the prosecution resumed.
In June 2022, Deflaun entered pleas of “not guilty” and “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The District Attorney had the burden to prove Deflaun’s guilt, which the jury confirmed. The defense then had to prove that Deflaun did not appreciate the nature of his acts or was unable to distinguish right from wrong, but the court ruled against the defense on April 28, 2023.
The resolution of this case, after two decades of uncertainty, provides closure for the Wells and Rios families. The District Attorney expressed gratitude to the jury, witnesses, and the prosecution team for their dedication to delivering justice.